iOS – Accelerometer App

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to access the iPhone accelerometer using HTML5 and the PhoneGap API. In this post, I return to this topic and discuss a native Accelerometer app. Here is a screenshot of version 1.0:Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 4.34.39 AM

In the above picture, I’ve kept the iPhone on a table, with the x and y axes in the plane of the table. The z-axis points up towards you, normal to the iPhone screen. The acceleration due to gravity (in our non-inertial frame of reference on the earths surface) is negative one (in units of g = 9.8 [m/s2]), which means it is in the direction of the negative z-axis. The numbers show the acceleration magnitude and the {x,y,z} components, with the minimum and maximum values. Pressing the reset button erases the minimum and maximum values.

The polar grid is for displaying the instantaneous acceleration in the x-y plane. Because the acceleration is along z in this picture, the yellow ball is at the origin (zero x and y components). The circles correspond to different g values. If we place the iPhone on its edge in a vertical position on the table, we get the following result:

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 4.47.58 AM

As you expected, the x-component is now 1.0 and the y and z components are zero. You can play with this app by downloading the source code from

If you’ve been following my journey in iOS land, there were primarily two new things I learned while making this app:

  • Using the CoreMotion Framework – this is where all the “motion sensing” classes live. You need to add this framework to your project and instantiate a CMMotionManager object to talk to the accelerometer.

The implementation file shows how to initialize this new object and use it to talk to the accelerometer:

  • Using the CoreGraphics API for custom drawing inside a UI View, starting with getting the current graphics context and learning the difference between points and pixels. This stuff is found in Circles.m, the implementation file for the Circles class.


Once your device has this app, there are some interesting experiments you can do to test how many g’s your body experiences while walking, running, walking up and down the stairs and so on and so forth. Here is a quick summary of the acceleration magnitude range in some random experiments:

  • Standing still – 1g
  • Normal walking – 0.7g to 1.8g
  • Walking up the stairs – 0.4g to 2.0g
  • Going downstairs – 0.1g to 3.3g
  • Jumping up and down – 0g to 2.5g
  • Vigorously shaking the phone – 0g to 3.5g

Finally, if you throw your iPhone in the air, it will temporarily experience “weightless” conditions (just like it does when you jump up and down) and the app will record the minimum acceleration magnitude to be zero. But the impulse when you throw it and catch it again could be up to 3.5g. The above set of results come with some caveats that you should keep in mind: (1) The data is obtained at 60 Hz. Thus, impulses imparted in a time interval less than 1/60th of a second may not be recorded accurately. (2) I was not able to get a reading more than 3.5g for the maximum acceleration. This might be the maximum limit of the hardware.

In summary, we learned how to write a native iOS app that queries the built-in accelerometer and displays the values on screen in real-time. In the next version of this app, I plan to add in another screen where we can plot the different accelerations as a single graph or multiple graphs, with time on the x-axis.

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